Take five minutes

Big Fish Games’ first adventure debut plays something like a Room Escape game crossed with a collection of mini-games. The result is very playable and replayable – not to mention dazzling.

The storyline is the typical soul-got-locked-into-object-save-me plea of an adventure game, and it plays like a puzzle game such as the 7th Guest than it does an “adventure” game like Day of the Tentacle. All instances of hunting for objects and using them is contained in a single screen and it feels a lot like the locks in MCF: Ravenhearst.

Azada is very forgiving when it comes to providing hints. Every time you use a hint, it subtracts 5 minutes. You’re likely to only need one to two hints, so it’s pretty simple to figure things out. The alloted 30 minutes or so for each level is extremely generous – I needed maybe 2-3 minutes for each screen. Your mileage may vary, depending on your level of experience with adventure games. The fact that all the objects can be used in the same scene shortens the gameplay time by just that little bit as well – in an adventure game we’re usually juggling a full inventory and 30 or so locations to use them in. In Azada there maybe a maximum of 5 objects and 1 screen at a time.

Azada features gorgeous particle effects that seems, well, straight out of Mystic Inn. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you – animation is smooth and fluid, shading is realistic, light seems to glow right off of objects. The effect is simply stunning. Even though the game only runs at 800×600 it looks like 1024×768 full screen. The music is almost Disney-esque, or as Stu puts it, “would you turn off that Fantasia already?” It’s not bad at all. All the sound effects – and there are many – goes off without a hitch and never sound out of place.

There are 31 mini-games in Azada. Yup. You heard me. 31. That’s a lot of mini-games. There are no Diner Dash clones or Match-3’s in here like Escape From Paradise, but rather, classic puzzles such as English peg solitaire, Hanoi tower, matchstick puzzles, Mastermind and the old game that we used to play on grid paper, squares. All of these are beautifully executed, though sometimes a bit too simple. They’re likely to take you less than a minute each. When you’ve finish one you can go back to the shelves and play them any time you like, some of them randomized. Puzzles like Matchsticks have extra levels if you go back to play them.

Here’s a list:

  • Symbols – Sudoku clone
  • Squares – Dots and boxes.
  • Matchsticks – classic matchstick puzzles.
  • The Shapes – Chinese Tangrams.
  • Sliders – Traffic Jam / Rush Hour. Or you can try this Bunny Magic game I host.
  • The torn-up image – jigsaw with straight edges.
  • Connect Three – connect three to clicking. Boring.
  • The Colors – Simon. Visual and audio cues is a nice touch.
  • Butterflies – Find the identical butterfly (There is only one pair in each map that is identical)
  • The Pyramid – Swap tiles that are next to each other to form an image. Easy.
  • The Stamps – memory match.
  • Puzzle by numbers – find number by adding and subtracting the numbers in the map.
  • Round and round – move color cubes into same color boxes with a circular cursor.
  • The Towers – Hanoi tower.
  • Sequences – Figure out the next symbol in sequence. Too easy.
  • The Runes – find all same or all different…pretty interesting.
  • Pawns – English peg solitaire.
  • Building blocks – move blocks around until it looks like what’s in the reference map. Feels like work.
  • Final Approach – bounce a ball around with arrow buttons until it falls into the hole. The solutions are often so obvious it just feels like work. Reminds me of the old Castlemouse.
  • The Robot – The robot will walk straight in front of him, and you put arrows on the ground to guide him to his batteries. Clone of Tiny Worlds, without the wolves.
  • Pipes – pipe dream, but you have to close off all the exits of the pipes, and the ooze doesn’t chase you.
  • The maze – a simple maze
  • Chemicals – Mastermind.

If you enjoy puzzle games such as the 7th Guest, you will get quite a lot of enjoyment out of this game. However, if you’re a puzzle expert (such as myself) who knows how to solve the English peg solitaire down to the last peg, the Hanoi Tower in the least number of moves, grew up playing Tangrams and Traffic Jam, and passed time in class playing Matchsticks and Squares, this might be a bit of a short romp through the genre.

Overall, Azada is a great marriage between old fashion point and click adventure games and the casual game genre. I really enjoyed the room escape parts of the game, and some of the mini-games are great, while others felt like work since there’s not so much puzzling to it as there is just clicking. It’d be wonderful to see Big Fish Games tackle a classic point-and-clicker since they seem to have a knack for logical puzzles.

Azada Walkthrough

See what I mean? Every time you turn around, a new object hunting game materializes. Secrets of Great Art is a relatively simple one that plays very much like the basic levels in Mysteryville or Magic Academy – you have to find a LONG list of items, but every time you play through it’d be the same.

The storyline is one page long each and there are 60 entries that you can flip through just in case you’ve forgotten what it was before. It’s a bit scattered in the beginning, but start to be coherent about 15-20 pages in. In comparison to the great art of each level, the artwork drawn for the story panes seem to have been either done by a high school student taking vocational art or an adult who hasn’t drawn since elementary school but used to be really talented – apparently they’ve never heard of foreshortening or perspective.

Fortunately, both the objects that are hidden as well as the paintings that are presented are lovely. They are detailed, never blurry, and mostly well-hidden. Since these are actual paintings, the game also lets you know the name of the painting as well as the original artists for them – but really, they are just different paintings done by two different artists.

There is also a find-the-differences “mini-game” that is presented as a level that occurs about 20 out of the 60 levels. That’s still around 40 maps to hunt through that you never have to revisit. So as far as replay value goes, by the time you get back to the first level to replay, you wouldn’t remember what it looks like. However, all the levels will remain the same.

Music and sound in Secrets of Great Art are both beautifully done – understated and appropriate. It’s definitely worth the try – if you like the first hour, just figure out how much of the game you’ve completed by checking the number of levels you have went through.

Ever since Cake Mania came out and became extremely popular, there has been numerous clones. Burger Island is, in a way, a Cake Mania clone. It involves filling orders in an “exact” way in a given amount of time for a lineup of customers. It’s fast-paced, addictive, and satisfies the clickaholic in you. After playing Stand O’ Food, I didn’t have high expectations for this one. There’s only so much fun to be had making sandwiches, you know?

Burger Island starts off with an unlikely story: Patty (haha, very funny, guys) is washed ashore a mysterious “Burger Island” with natives that seems to be Hawaiian. She is taken in by an elderly couple who runs a decrepit burger shack. After working for them for a while, the couple decided to retire from the joint and gave the place to Patty as a gift. Your tutorial is presented by your maitre d’ Pierre who sounds like he’s constantly saying “you imbecile” in French, and your recipes will come from the Burger Island Chief who laughs and mumbles in Hawaiian. Hooked, yet?

Gameplay is very intuitive, and the levels are stacked so that you’re never doing the same things over and over again in a row. There are three different things you can make: burgers, fries, and shakes. Each of them have a “delayed” step, and a bunch of instantaneous ones, depending on how many recipes you have bought from the chief. More complicated recipes will net you more money towards the win condition. Generally you will end up doing burger – shake – burger – fries and so on, with each mission consisting of just one kind of item.

Each mission you will be required to make a minimum amount of money in a prescribed amount of time – usually about 3 minutes after the first few levels. As the levels progresses, you will be asked to make more money in the same amount of time. There is also a difficulty gauge, and I played the game on “Regular” and found it really, really hard to keep up in the later levels. If you manage to keep all your customers from storming off, you get a perfect level score bonus.

Now, onto how we make that money. At the beginning of each level, you’ll be taken to the Chief’s hut where you can use money you have made in previous levels to buy recipes. Each of them will also come with information on how much these recipes will make you for each item sold as well as the ingredients. Each item can have up to 7 ingredients, and some burgers have two patties (which is the delay item since the burgers need to be grilled – kind of like the cakes in Cake Mania that needs to be baked) and the levels can get really hairy. With only 3 minutes on the clock. If you lose a customer near the end of the completion of a burger, you lose all the money that you spent making it.

Since the game is all about slowly mounting difficulty, it never quite get boring even though there are a total 60 levels. It just gets more challenging as you go. The swapping of the levels also prevents you from doing ONE thing all of the time, and it really does feel like three different games contained in the same game.

Burger Island utilizes stylized vector graphics, which are all very well done. It could’ve used a “quality” slider, since it lagged a little bit during the animation intensive times in my game. The music is very, very good. The tunes are catchy and fits well. The sound effects could’ve used more work, however. For example, if I pick up ketchup and use it, it’s the same sound if I picked up lettuce and used it. You’d expect a “splat” with sauces and a light “slap” with pickles and lettuce, but I’m just being slightly picky here since the game is overall so good for the genre.

Overall, Burger Island a very addictive and well-made game that is well-balanced and has a learning curve built right into the game via the recipes system. It’s very well polished from the storyline, the humour, the graphics to the music, and definitely worth the buy. Try it. I actually liked something for once. 🙂

Hints: Burger Island

Every once in a while I come across a rare gem of a game that takes a well-known, over-used genre or setting, and turn it upside down. Secrets of Bird Island (SSA-SBI) is, in a way, a creature hunting game. The only thing you can really compare it to is Pokemon Snap. SSA-SBI manages to be both fun and educational. Best of all, you’ll be having enough fun that you (and your child) won’t notice the educational part.

Aside from a few “fantastic” elements, SSA-SBI simulates the life of a bird snapper pretty well. Usually, you start before the crack of dawn, and follow the birds in a given area for the entire day. You watch while they sleep, preen, fly, and eat. Depending on each mission, you’re required to snap photos of a specific bird doing some specific things, and when you’re done, you can fulfill requests for bonus points. While you’re doing this, your field journal will write itself. Each time you take a still or flying photo, you can choose to assign one of each to your field journal to look at later. When you snap a bird doing a bird call, you will unlock a “bird song” to listen to. Your field journal is also filled with information about these birds.

The game judges the photos base on the quality of the shot. Zooming into the shot helps, ao does using a flash at night and centering your shots. It does a pretty good job, although sometimes you might think that a leaf is hardly concealing a bird, while the game believes that the bird is completely obscured. It also gives the photo more points if the bird is performing an action – say, preening – or if the photograph contains multiple birds.

Since the game is so deceptively simple, it adds interest by providing 5 slots for power-ups. There is a bag of seeds that you can use to bring any bird into a “eating” position, a magic mirror to make them preen, a few different zoom lenses, and an x-ray filter to see through leaves, to name a few. The mission object will give you hints as to what you should bring along. For example, if it asks for 3 flying images of the American Crow during the night, you’d want to bring a mug of coffee to sharpen your reflexes, a plane to make the birds fly, a flash, and the night vision.

The graphics in SSA-SBI isn’t bad, but because it’s a simulation game, the bar is set much higher. Even at the “high” quality level, some might find their birds a little too pixelated and lacking detail. If you have an older computer, it might slow down too much during the game and you’d have to go with “low” quality, which is horrid. The music is decent – most of the game you won’t hear it since it would distract from the chirping of birds. The sounds are fantastic – the bird calls are authentic, and it really feels like a wilderness out there.

There are 114 birds that you can collect for your field journal, and each has two pages of its own with the photos you’ve taken. Even after you finish the main storyline, you will find yourself going back to take pictures that you’re missing, or to find better photos of the birds that you’ve already taken photos of.

Secrets of Bird Island ends with a cliffhanger, hinting at MORE Snap Shot Adventures to come. It’s a fantastic game that you can spend in front of the computer with your child, reading the extended information, looking at the photos, listening to the bird calls, and maybe use those skills later identifying birds on long road trips. Definitely a great buy – an hour doesn’t do it justice at all.

Curtis says: I had fun watching the lights and the sounds – the music is very soothing. As for the lights, it’s mesmerizing; I was staring for a good 10 minutes with my mouth open! When I’m a bit older (ok, quite a bit older) I can actually play this, since there is a kids’ mode where the puzzles are made easier by letting us little ones see the balls as they travel through the maze.

Pathstorm is easily the best game I’ve played so far this year, and I’ve played QUITE a number of them. The gameplay is very accessible and simple, and yet offers limitless possibilities and unlimited gameplay via user-generated content. For $20 this is more than reasonable. For $6.99 this is a steal!

In each level of pathstorm you are presented with a shape with holes on the sides where balls can exit and enter. Balls travel somewhat like lightbeams in the free game Reflexions, bouncers like mirrors, and then splitters create extra balls. To make things more interesting, the entire map is covered until you figure out where the bouncers/splitters/etc are on a given path. The paths of the balls are also hidden, and the only thing you have guiding you is a blink or a sound when the ball hits something. This quickly get complicated by the fact that balls have a “right” path and a “wrong” path, and some bouncers have to be adjusted before the level can call it quits. Some bouncers are also switchers – they flip when a ball hits it until you find it.

It gets harder from there – splitters change one ball into three, and shifters shift the ball over one square in the direction that they are spinning in. Twirlers add another layer of complexity to the mix, but you won’t encounter them for a while.

To make the game easier for kids, there is a kids’ mode where the ball is visible through paths you have already cleared. This might not sound like much, but you’d be surprised how much easier the game is. I find it to be a great teacher of logic and deduction, but it does require a child whose attention can be held for more than a few minutes.

What I love about Pathstorm is the extendability and the amount of gameplay in this little game. There are 130 levels in the standard mode – which gets reset and randomized every time you start the anew; 60 levels in challenge mode, and in the puzzle creator you can randomize and create any square shaped level. You can also save off any level as a favorite, send it to your desktop, and upload it so other people who has the game can also play it. Speaking of the forum, there are more individual levels you can download off the official Cavedog forums…and if you read the posts, it seems like an official custom levels creator could be in the making.

You can save and exit at anytime during a level and start exactly where you left off. Each level typically takes around 5 minutes, but if you’re going for perfect, it could take you quite a few tries. Trophies are awarded when you get perfects and go without the power-ups.

The graphics in Pathstorm take advantage of hardware acceleration and is as well done as it can be. Music and sound are both lovely – the background music is stunning, actually. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a good puzzle. Personally, I’m addicted!

Nanny Mania can best be described as The Sims meet Diner Dash. To those who have played The Sims before, remember that maid you used to be able to call on to take care of your messes everyday? You become that maid. And your household is a maximum of six Sims who have their cleanliness bars set to 0. The level (it’s the same level with an ever expanding set of furniture and rambunctious children) is your typical Sims house, isometrically viewed. There are a number of things you can click on and clean, as well as multiple-step tasks such as laundry and feeding the baby.

The goal for each level is to turn chaos into order. Each level you’re presented with a house where laundry is thrown every which way in every room (including the kitchen), unmade beds, dirty aquariums, open wardrobes and the like. With a few fast and furious mouseclicks, and in less than 3 minutes, you are to clean up everything – do the laundry, make dinner, feed and change the baby, make all the beds and achieve order. Sounds like work? Nope. It’s actually really addictive fun.

Each set of levels will present you with something just a little different – but within each chapter all the levels are basically the same, with laundry in different places. As your advance in chapters, the household will get more babies, and those babies will become toddlers, and then those tots will in turn become children and then teens. The house will change to reflect this; the nursery becomes a library, an empty room houses two children’s beds, a side room becomes a princess’ room.

Nanny moves at a steady clip, but you can speed her up even more by going over to the kitchen and chugging down a mug of coffee. Otherwise, the usual time management skills apply here: trying to find the shortest distance between two points and making use of “down-time” as machines do their work will become the chief strategy. The game never gets challenging enough to hold you back – you get 3 lives to keep your score, and I never ONCE lost one. I got the perfect goal every single level without having to redo any one of them.

I had a lot of fun with this game, though it is not without its flaws; certain parts of the game feels unfinished. There are a lot of things in the house that you area allowed to click on – the wing chair, the entertainment system, the hat tree, etc – that aren’t used in the game. They’re there, and I kept expecting the game to utilize them in the later levels, but they NEVER do. Also, you’re technically allowed to cancel the queue by clicking the right mouse button, but even if you do and you choose a new object, your character would walk to the next object in your old queue anyway.

Also, there are technically 150 levels, but really there are only 50. You get three characters, but they work exactly the same way. So when you’re done with the nanny, all you can really do is do the same 50 levels again with mom, then with dad. Since part of the nanny’s job is to clean up the tub after mom and mop up the mud that dad drags in from golfing, the mom and dad portions of the game are actually easier than the nanny portion.

The graphics in Nanny mania is simply wonderful – the characters are rendered 3D sprites that jump, giggle, eat, and have all sorts of different animations. Since there are so many animations for these things, one starts to wonder why there is only ONE animation for cleaning up. It all looks like nanny is frantically changing a diaper on everything. The sounds are fitting and well done; from the cry of the baby to the giggles of the children, it’s all very believable.

Nanny Mania is a well-done, addictive time management game that feels just a little rushed when it came to level design, but definitely worth buying if you belong to the gameclub. $6.99, yes. $20, no. It just doesn’t have that kind of replayability, as finishing the game in its entirety already means playing it three times. Doing the first 50 levels took me an hour and a half.

Bottom line: Good time management game, a bit on the easy side, and the levels could’ve used more time in development. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be an expansion pack. Or extra levels for download later.

Think Insaniquarium. In Microlife, you breed, feed, and protext these little critters, sell their eggs for cash and train them to defend themselves. It’s a WHOLE LOT of fun, and really, it’s on par with some of the $20 casual games I’ve played. However, Microlife is FREE and the link from here is mostly ad-free; I found it on the BBC website. There’s also a level password system built in, so you can go back anytime to play the next levels.

Play Microlife.

Simular Games that are more clickaholic than strategy:

While we’re here, I’m going to stick in an extra free game here: Insaniquarium in Java.

Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I just checked it NOW. It’s going to be free for another 6 hours or so. Get it while it’s hot! It’s usually $20, but Giveaway of the Day is giving it away.

Snowy’s Lunch Rush is my favorite Diner Dash clone; in fact, I like it better than Diner Dash.

I think I must’ve played every hidden objects game that came out after the first Mystery Case Files. So I must admit that I’m a little jaded: I’ve played some truly good ones, and some really, really bad ones. The score has generally been in the green, however, so I wasn’t too worried about whether Oberon Games (who also created Dream Day Wedding) was going to have a good game. I knew it was going to be a good game – I was just worried how Dream Day Wedding’s flaws would march on.

What flaws are these, you may ask? Dream Day Wedding has its quirks – the glowy dreamy graphics were lovely, but I had a heck of time finding certain things. Mostly there were expectations that you’d be able to find something that 5×5 pixels. Sure, I enjoy a challenge, but there’s a limit. In Death on the Nile, after hunting the sharks for a while and not being able to find them for the 4th time the timer ran out, I resorted to making a screenshot and posting it in an image editor.

Death on the Nile borrows heavily from traditional point and click adventure games for its mini-games. From the questioning of the suspects (which is optional) to the mini-games which are actually puzzles, death on the Nile feels a lot like a 1st person adventure game. These puzzles are completely optional, and they add to the game and gives the game a storyline – this is actually the only hidden objects game I’ve come across with a real storyline, not just one hammered together for the sake of finding stuff. (Which I don’t mind either, but this is icing on the cake, yeah?)

Some of the puzzles that are mandatory is hard enough to have some people scratching their heads (the one I received the most questions about was the one in Allerton’s Room – Complete the Rainbow) but logical enough to be solved without resorting to a walkthrough. I really enjoyed this element of the game – it’s new and adds to the genre instead of just being “gimmicky.” I’m sure this will be picked up by other developers soon enough and we’ll see it in other games. I especially liked the fact that some objects are “clues” that actually has something to do with the storyline.

Graphics in Death on the Nile is smooth and responsive and everything is very well-drawn.. The music is lovely albeit VERY repetitive. The cut scenes are really no more than slideshows of character portraits and text. It would’ve been nice to see dialog being read alond by actors, but I guess that might be asking for too much. Overall, though it has adult themes, you CAN play the game with children given that you skip the cutscenes entirely. It does save anywhere, so it’s technically a minute game. BUT -and it’s a big but – the load screen for the main menu as well as the profile loading takes up to a minute and a half; that drops it down to the five minute break category. Overall, a worthy addition to the hidden objects genre.

The School Food Trust in England commissioned a flash game that plays like Sonic the Hedgehog while brainwashing the kids into thinking that healthy food is cool. Hey, why don’t the Canadian school system do something like this? Eating junk food makes you slow and fat, healthy food gives you points and keep you fast and lean. Doing push-ups help you lose weight and therefore faster.

Great “game” to trick your kids into playing, and it’s actually quite a lot of fun for us adults too! Play the game here. Ad-free.

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